Just a note to flag the big online health news of the day: Microsoft has officially launched its new consumer health management platform, HealthVault -- "a trusted place to store your personal health information," complete with a specialized health search engine.
The service is designed "to help patients coordinate disparate pieces of health-care information, from lab results and prescription records to X-rays and daily blood pressure and allergy readings."
And the buzzwords are: Privacy, Compatibility, and Security. As in, will consumers really be willing to put their most personal data into a file server that's potentially available to prying eyes? Microsoft promises locked-down security.
BusinessWeek also notes, however, that "patient health records are about as resistant to information technology as the common cold is to a cure." This is due to the fact that many doctors are already strapped for time, and have no real economic incentive to digitize all their patient data. This goes for doctors in small practices all the way up to large hospital settings. "The amount of training needed to switch over to computerized systems may be more trouble than it's worth for many time-stressed physicians."
Cocky as ever, Microsoft insists it can break through all the traditional barriers to EMR (electronic medical records). Here's why:
1) By offering HealthVault as a free online repository, the company has essentially "changed the economic equation so that hospitals and doctors don't need to invest in new equipment" in order to use EMR.
2) Microsoft is partnering with established medical records software providers like Allscripts to make it easy to send files over the Web to HealthVault. Also, doctors' offices that don't use such software can securely fax the data into a patient's digital files.
3) Microsoft is betting on making a boatload of money (!) on the combination of HealthVault and another business that sells software to hospitals -- "a billion-plus" in revenue according to Peter Neupert, new head of the company's Health Solutions Group. The income from HealthVault will come from ad revenue associated with the built-in search capability offered by Medstory, a Foster City, CA, company acquired by Microsoft last February. Medstory's health-specific results are grouped together under topics such as clinical studies, nutrition, and medication.
In the end, of course, patient buy-in is key. Will people flock to HealthVault? Check it out and let me know if it looks like a place that YOU would store YOUR medical records.